Find a short list here, or read on…
Central Europe is the home to the Pontus varieties of the Common Grape Vine (Vitis Vinifera), the major vine variety used to produce quality wines. This means that most vine varieties are native to the region, are they are more or less unknown in Western Europe, and also in the New World, they still hold interesting opportunities to discover.
also known as Italian Riesling, Welschriesling, Laski Riesling, Taljanski Riesling,
it is completely different from Rhine Riesling. Widespread variety across the country and the region, only grown in Central-Europe. Usually gives a popular, basic drinking wine with good acidity, but some producers also aim for the creation of a top quality wine with terroir expression and longevity. Historical references come from Eger, and the Northern Balaton, mainly Csopak.
Reference wines could probably be found in the region, Slovenia and Austria may be holding some prestige wines made from olaszrizling.
also known as Sipon in Slovenia.
the most widely spread variety in Tokaj, the base for the top dry white project. It also serves as a base for sweet, botrytis wines. Widely popular in the whole country, probably a Hungaricum. It is also popular in other wine regions, sometimes referred to as the Hungarian chardonnay, as several winemakers wish to express terroir through furmint.
Often called a masculine varietal due to preserving higher acidity, and creating stricter wines than its cousin hárslevelű.
also known as Lindenblatter (German), Lipovina (Slovakian), sometimes mentioned as Linden Leaf.
The second most important variety of Tokaj, often blended with furmint. Also popular across most regions, it can be found in Eger, Somló, but also in the Southern region of Villány.
The feminine pair to furmint, with rounder acidity, richer flavour profile with more fruit and white flower aromas. A personal favourite due to the warm and friendly character, and the rich aromatics of the wines. Varietal aszús are also beautiful for me.
While a recognized white variety among Hungarian wine enthusiasts, it is still lacking the benchmark wine yet. Typical for Somló, pretty high on acidity.
These varieties are similar to the internationally better recognized Muscat Blanc, as they produce really fresh and fragrant wines, while still being quite different. They are generally for early consumption, scarcely aged in oak, may come with some residual sugar. Great for chatting away on a hot summer day, just serve them chilled, like a prosecco, or moscato d’Asti.
The most important varieties are Irsai Olivér, Cserszegi fűszeres. Several varieties are products of local research institutions.
also known as Blaufrankisch in Austria.
The Austrian counterparts are better known at the moment. Kékfrankos gives a lighter, low tannin red wine, somewhere between the character of a Burgundy and a red Bordeaux, with lots of red fruit. A very widespread and versatile variety, it is both used for making easy drinking reductive wines, but can also be aged in oak barrels to create wines to lay in the cellar. Also recognized for bringing the nuances of terroir through to the consumer, especially in cooler climates like Sopron and Eger.
also known as gamza in the Balkan.
Some people refer to kadarka as the “Hungarian pinot noir”, but the fame and recognition is yet to come. The only red variety of the Pontic family is low in tannins, higher in acidity, with raspberry aromas, and a typical spicyness, depending on the clone. It is highly sensitive to rot and demands lots of manual labour and attention. Once famous, and considered a real Hungaricum (though it is rather a regional specialty for CEE & the Balkan) it is yet far from being a leading brand. While lots of efforts are put into producing top kadarka wines with some truly worthy results, I do not think the real benchmark wine has been made yet.
The Hungarian gamay, to put it short. Perhaps the best known for the new, first-to-arrive wines in all vintages, just like a Beaujolais. Red fruits dominate the flavour profile, it is meant for early consumption, scarsely aged in new oak. The concentrated red fruits occasionally remind me of some red port wines, while generally lacking the depth and the strength.
As for the popular idea of producing Bordeaux blends & the full-bodied red wines all over the world, Hungary seems to suit Cabernet Franc and Merlot best. CF is able to produce high quality reds consistently in every (well, most) vintage, and every wine region, it is a versatile utility varietal for all producers. Northern regions like Sopron and Eger may occasionally come closer to the Loire-style, rather than a traditional Bordeaux.
The slightly later ripening Cabernet Sauvignon seems unable to produce highly reliable base for top red wines even in the hot southern regions, with some notable expections, of course.
Just like Cabernet Franc, several top vineries produce their top wines from Merlot, or a Merlot-blend. Top quality is currently produced in the southern regions of Villány and Szekszárd.
Syrah seems to run its career in the North, producing wines in the style of the Northern Rhone. A few full-bodied Barossa-valley shirazes are coming along from Szekszárd and Villány.
Besides the local varietals lots of cabernet, merlot, chardonnay, etc… are planted just like in other countries of the world.